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The “Spotify for books” model: Great for readers, terrible for authors and publishers

By Blog, Industry

I am a fan of Spotify, the streaming music service that offers millions of tracks for free over the Internet. As a listener, I love the ability to find old favorites or discover new artists. Having to put up with occasional ads is not much different than listening to radio. If I had more disposable income, I would pay the $5 monthly fee for Spotify Premium — which does away with the ads and lets you download music to portable devices, like iPods and mobile phones. Would I be interested in a Spotify for books? There are such services popping up, like Bookboard for kids books and 24symbols in the U.K. for adult readers. Amazon also offers free downloads for some ebooks.

As a reader, free books are very appealing. I already use the library to borrow books, and the idea of getting free ebooks on my iPad or Kindle is attractive.

But as an author and publisher (The In 30 Minutes catalogue includes Online Content Marketing In 30 Minutes, Dropbox In 30 Minutes, Excel Basics In 30 Minutes and a Google Docs for Dummies alternative) I’m very concerned about any model that depends on free giveaways that result in little or no returns for the writers and publishers.

Spotify for books and Amazon KDP

For instance, the “free days” on Amazon’s KDP Select (which are the source of the free downloads on Amazon.com) have turned into a joke for me and other authors. KDP Select requires indie authors and publishers to only distribute through Amazon (no iTunes or Nook!) and in return gives them five days every 90 days in which they can price their book for free. The free days are supposed to attract lots of downloads from Amazon readers, while delivering a nominal price to participating authors. However, the last time I looked, my single KDP Select title delivered an average of 1 cent per download from the KDP Select fund. That’s comparable with the money musicians get every time someone plays one of their tracks on Spotify, according to various sources.

I withdrew my single title from KDP Select, and have no plans to use the KDP Select service again — unless Amazon can figure out a plan that brings more than a few pennies each time readers download books on the free download days. The same goes for other services that try to ape the Spotify for books model, or depend on loads of free giveaways. Unless there’s something tangible in it for authors, I’ll pass.

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